Home Network Backup

Set up your network to save copies of critical files

Detail of a back-up DVD disc and a marker on a laptop

 Daniel Diebel / Getty Images

A home network backup system maintains copies of your personal electronic data files in case of computer failures, theft or disasters. You can manage your own home network backups or choose to use an online service. Considering the impact of possibly losing irreplaceable family photos and documents, the time and money you spend on network backups is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Backup to Discs

Pros

  • Full control over which files are backed up and when.

  • Optical discs are relatively inexpensive.

Cons

  • Local discs are easy to damage or misplace.

  • People often don't backup frequently enough.

One simple way to backup your data is to "burn" copies onto optical discs. Using this method, you can manually choose the individual files and folders you want to backup from each computer, then use the computer's CD or DVD writing program to make file copies. If all of your computers have a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM writer, you do not even need to access the network as part of the backup procedure.

Most homes have at least one computer on the network without its own disc writer, however. For these, you can set up file sharing and remotely transfer data onto the optical disc over the home network. 

Backup to a Local Server

Pros

  • Automatic backup capability with suitable software.

  • Frees up resources (e.g., burners) on the home computers.

Cons

  • Server is in the same location as the computers and susceptible to the same theft/fire/flood risks.

  • NAS devices are more expensive than discs.

Instead of burning multiple disks on possibly several different computers, consider setting up a backup server on your home network. A backup server contains a large hard disk drive (sometimes more than one for increased reliability) and has local network access to receive files from the other home computers.

Several companies manufacture Network Attached Storage devices that function as simple backup servers. Alternatively, more technically inclined homeowners may opt to set up their own backup server using an ordinary computer and home network backup software.

Backup to a Remote Hosting Service

Pros

  • Automatic backup capability.

  • Servers are located away from the home with lower risk from theft or natural disaster.

Cons

  • Can be a very expensive option for large amounts of data.

  • Relies on providers being reputable with provisions in place if a data hosting business shuts down or is acquired by a different business.

Several vendors offer remote data backup services. Instead of making copies of data within the home, these online backup services copy files from the home network to their servers over the internet and store subscribers' data in their protected facilities.

After signing up with one of these remote hosting services, often you need only to install the provider's software, and internet network backups can happen automatically thereafter. These services charge monthly or yearly fees based on the amount of data being backed up, although some providers also offer free (ad-supported) storage for smaller-sized backups.

Consider the Cloud

Backup services and procedures, by their very design, snapshot files at a given point in time. However, most modern cloud-storage vendors — Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox — support file mirroring, which is the practice of storing one copy of the file on a device's filesystem and another copy on a synced folder with the cloud-hosting provider. This process isn't the same as backups, but the net result is the same: You've got files locally and remotely, thus protecting your data.

Cloud services and backup services aren't synonyms. If, for example, a virus attacks the files you've synced to a cloud service, the files in both places are compromised. With a true backup service, however, the lack of persistent two-way sync means you've got some flexibility to travel backward in time to recover your data.